You’re a Dungeon Master for Dungeons & Dragons, and your players have just made their characters in your Session 0. You have your first adventure all planned out, fighting some zombies in a crypt of this small fishing village. Should take about three weeks to play through, but then you don’t know what to do. You don’t know what your players want to do, what they’re interested in, and you feel uncertain about what to plan for.
Luckily for you, you’re players have already told you what kind of game they want to play, you just don’t know where to look. Check out their backgrounds! A Player Character’s background is the spot in character creation where a player tells you what kind of game they want to play, because they made it so central to their character.
Criminal? They want to steal some stuff. Sailor? You better put them on a boat. Noble? Well, how do you put Noble stuff in a game about killing monsters? Here are some ideas.
For some context, one of my players recently played a Noble character. Lady Torlyn Ungart of Clan Mroranon in the Eberron setting, a dwarf cleric. In the backstory, Torlyn was once part of a noble family, but was like 15th in line for the throne of Mroranonhold, but due to a decades long war with aberrations from the Underdark, she has seen her family die, where now she is 5th in line. Still not leading the family, but with a lot more responsibility in serving the family. The other two players at the table found themselves to effectively be working as bodyguards to this Noble. It wasn’t planned that way, but they lacked a strong motivation to push the group in certain directions, so Torlyn and her Noble responsibility was the driving factor of what direction they should go.
Early on in the campaign, after their first publicly acknowledged act of heroism, they met an NPC with social status, the Ambassador for the Dwarven Nation of Mror Holds in this Human-centric Kingdom of Breland. The Ambassador was fairly passive in their job, wanting to represent the Dwarves, without offending their host nation. However, Torlyn was able to work with the Ambassador, and attend events as a member of the noble family, but not in a political position. One of the biggest moments, was being invited to the Tain Gala, a party for the top tier in social, financial, and political status in Breland, where the party were able to make connections, introduce themselves, and raise awareness of the troubles that faced the Dwarves of the Mror Holds. They were only invited to a single party, and they successfully did not start a fight, but were able to meaningfully meet NPCs far above their station in a way that would not have been possible without a Noble in the party.
Throughout the campaign, the party learned of a special mineral that was highly effective against the aberrations, Byeshk, which the Dwarves of the Mror Holds would be able to fashion into weaponry. However, the only notable mines of Byeshk were in the monstrous nation of Droaam. So, being a noble of the Mror Holds, Torlyn set up a meeting with the owners of the mines, a trio of Medusae sisters. Now, D&D is not a game about international trade negotiations, and I don’t think anyone was interested in trying to graft a system for it onto the game, for a short scene, no matter how influential it was. So instead, we brought the whole series of negotiations down to three rolls.
First, are they willing to make a trade deal, second the price per unit, and third the amount of units over how much time. We used a flat Persuasion check, with no hard DC set, just to see how favorable the deal would be. We didn’t discuss the actual numbers, because no one at the table had any context how much any of this would be, but that wasn’t the point. The point is that Torlyn had the meeting, and successfully negotiated a favorable trade deal for the dwarves, without being told to. Everything else was passed on to some offscreen NPC, but the next time that Torlyn arrived home, suddenly the army was equipped with new effective weaponry, and she was honored for negotiating this trade deal on her own initiative.
Then, after more than a year on the road, Torlyn and her adventuring friends all returned to the Mror Holds, where an army of Dwarves were equipped with Byeshk weapons, and the head of Clan Mroranon said that Torlyn was to be the General of the army, and lead the united clans through the Underdark to end the war.
We used the MCDM Strongholds & Followers rules for leading units of soldiers on a battlefield, where the party would fight the opposing leader, or biggest challenge of the battle, while having a side game that played out similar to chess to represent their units. However, in between battles they had to deal with morale, supply chains, interclan disputes, choosing paths to take, and all of the other challenges that comes with leading others. It never took more than 15 minutes per session, but it was long enough to show that there is work in having a title. It was enough to make Torlyn feel like a Noble, without making the other players feel like they’re not in a game about killing monsters, the sessions were definitely still combat-centric.
Of course, Torlyn & Co. led the dwarvish army to victory, and defeated the Aberrations of the Underdark. As a reward for this amazing feat, Torlyn was awarded with a keep that she had cleared, and was now part of the Mror Holds. Unfortunately, we stopped playing at that point, but if we had continued, or if we ever return (which we hope to), then she will be able to continue to adventure, but also lead from her keep, using the MCDM sequel Kingdoms & Warfare.
I’m not sure what other ways I would have allowed Torlyn to be a Noble as the story continued, but now being the leader of a Keep, under the banner of Clan Mroranon, I’m sure I could have come up with conflicts, difficult decisions, things she could accomplish from the road, but would lead to what was effectively a minigame for her. We had previously established writing and receiving letters with Clan Mroranon, and so I probably would have started sending her more letters, with conflicting requests, possibly one from another Noble, and one from her Peasants/Serfs, and she has to balance her duties.